(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
Click here to listen to the message. Please see below to read it.
In the 1976 International Special Olympics held in Spokane, Washington, eight racers lined up for the final 100 yard dash – the race that would determine the gold medal winner. Shortly after the starting gun went off, one youth stumbled, fell to the ground, and was clearly hurt.
Two of the other racers, hearing one of their competitors fall and cry out, slowed down and turned to see what had happened. Both of them, without prompting from the other, then ran the other way – back to the fallen racer. They helped that racer stand up and the three began to walk to the finish line, arm in arm.
Five of the racers had already finished the race, with one of them winning the gold medal. But when the other three racers crossed the finish line, the crowd in the stadium stood and wildly cheered for several minutes. Three young people, each with different physical or mental abilities, and each from different backgrounds and cultures, showed what unity and compassion mean. They exemplified the sixth Unitarian Universalist principle: the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.
For me, those three runners also lived out the truth that when any person stumbles or is held back – for any reason – all of humanity has equally been held back. In other words, we each are part of the One Human Family. We collectively fall or rise together.
I love that this principle is a Unitarian Universalist ethic. It’s one we boldly state and one we pledge to help achieve. But that does not mean that I, or anyone else, is perfect at practicing it.
I can too often be like the five runners who continued onward in that race – sympathetic to the one who fell, but not necessarily willing to sacrifice for a stranger in distress. The challenge for me is to act as if every person, every group of people, no matter how different, is a member of my family deserving of concern and sacrifice. That, for me, represents the high ideal of living within and serving the world community.
Despite concerns that our nation and world is becoming more divided, however, demographic experts paint a different picture. The driving force behind the continuing trend toward a world community of peace, liberty and justice is coming from youth and young adults.
In 1990, back when I and many of us here were young adults, 73% of Americans between 15 and 35 were white. Today, the percentage is much lower – only 55% of persons is in that age range are white. And the trend is projected to steadily fall until in less than ten years, youth in our nation will be majority non-white. That’s because even today the average person of color in our nation is much younger than the average white person. The average age for all US citizens of color is 19. The average age for white citizens is 43. These numbers speak for themselves. Demographics point to a future America with a majority-minority population.
Even more than numbers, though, attitudes about diversity and world community in today’s youth are dramatically different from their elders. A majority of millennials value diversity far above individual merit in their job searches and in their relationships. While including different races is an important goal, today’s youth seek overall diversity – one they call “cognitive diversity”. They value being surrounded by people who think differently because they are from different backgrounds, lifestyles, and ethnicities – more women, more people of color, more other abled persons, more LGBTQ persons, more immigrants, more people with different spiritual beliefs, more people from economically challenged beginnings.
That view comes both from their beliefs, and because they have already lived a multi-cultural life. Today’s teens and young adults are the most diverse generation in history. They see the ideal of world community not only as a coming reality, but as one that will determine the future well-being of humanity.
Using the running story I opened with, two of the runners believed what today’s youth believe – that it was important for all of them to finish. Better that everyone succeed instead of just some. Experts say this is a new and unique attitude for any generation. They believe in the “All for one, and one for all” ethos – which is the foundation of a world community.
This has already transformed workplaces in the US and around the world. Open work spaces, a focus on teamwork, and a strong push for employee diversity are the hallmarks of today’s employment – ones driven by millennial demands. In a recent poll, 71% of millennials say teamwork and team success should be the organizing principle in government and in business. That represents a profound difference from the idea that individualism should be the hallmark and strength of America. The poll validates what demographic numbers predict – today’s youth are a pivot-point generation that will help usher in a world community attitude.
Studies also show that millennials value their differences and hold onto them far more than did their parents. In the past, US success was believed to result from being a melting pot – one where different people come together and then blend into a single American culture. Youth mostly reject that model.
Instead, young adults value being and staying different. Their view of America has been labeled a “salad bowl.” Many different ingredients don’t change or combine to become a bland mixture. Instead, many ingredients retain their identity such that the whole achieves a variety of flavors – a sweet tomato here, some earthy arugula lettuce there, a spicy crouton elsewhere. A “salad bowl” seems a simplistic analogy, but it is exactly how youth today want their lives and their workplaces to be – a true representation of one human family with many unique cultures and backgrounds all retaining their different identities while collaborating to achieve goals for everyone.
For many of us who are baby boomers, the idea of world community is one we helped originate. Sadly, however, it seems my generation lost its way by pursuing individual instead of communal goals.
This coming Friday is the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival. It stands as a defining moment for the baby boomer generation – one that came of age with high ideals for no war, communal lifestyles, and full equality. But with all of the free love, advocacy of peace, no greed and no religion too, also came self-indulgence. Woodstock despoiled a huge area of pristine New York meadowland. Mountains of trash, sewage, and ruined fields were the result – perhaps foreshadowing the greed oriented 1980’s and today’s climate change crisis.
Every generation begins with high minded ideals only to often lose some of them in the reality of middle age. And that could be the future outcome for today’s youth. One of the gifts older generations can give today’s youth, however, is to encourage and celebrate their innovative diversity ideals.
Baby boomers say they want world community, but its ability to make that happen is rapidly fading. Today’s youth, however, are poised to actually make world community a reality.
The video we earlier saw asked us to be the change we want to see. Remarkably, youth today already ARE that change. And so as older world citizens, many of us can acknowledge the unique power and possibility today’s youth generation represents in the history of humanity. Technology, social media, globalization, and much higher rates of interracial marriage and child bearing have all helped create the most diverse youth generation ever. That trend will continue. And so elders must not fight against that fact as some do, or begrudgingly accept it as others do. Instead, I believe baby boomers should champion it and promote it. I don’t say that lightly. We must allow the most diverse generation ever to begin to take hold of all reigns of power and influence.
Some respondents to our recent congregation survey said that since these Coffeehouse services are not attracting hordes of young attenders, we should stop doing them. To them I say a very respectful and very empathetic, “I hear you, but…I disagree.”
I cannot be committed to the future of all children without doing something tangible for that. One service a month that hopefully relates to all members – but especially to youth – is something I’ll do as long as I’m here. Our Unison Affirmation states that the future of youth is a major concern, so I encourage that it be one important strategic focus in all we do – in our volunteering, giving, Sunday services, and responsiveness to the world. The question all our teams can ask is, “how are we helping to enhance the well-being of youth?” Doing so will, as I’ve said, thereby promote world community. Today’s youth generations will be the ones to make it happen.
As a gray haired, almost 60 year old white man, I want to do what I can to help youth achieve what older generations have not – the goal of one human family, a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all – and do that in here and outside our walls too. I hope many others will join me in this effort.
I wish you much peace and joy.